NGOs, unions join forces at Workers’ Day rally

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This year’s May Day rally in KL was significant for a number of reasons, observes Jerit, with a reminder that workers are a force for change.

Photograph: Jerit

The May Day celebration this year was a significant one. The rally, which was held three days after Bersih 3.0 proved that a peacefully rally is possible if the police act professionally.

More than 3000 workers participated in this year’s May Day celebration. The workers, mostly in red T-shirts, gathered at Central Market at around 10.00am and then walked to Menara Maybank. At Menara Maybank, speeches by workers’ leaders, a May Day drama and a drum performance were held.

Now, why was this May Day significant?

First, on the eve of May Day, the Prime Minister announced the much-awaited minimum wage of RM900. A minimum wage has been one of the key demands of workers’ groups and trade unions. But at the rally, the workers rejected RM900 – the quantum is not sufficient. It is not a decent living wage. Most workers are disappointed that the government has bowed down to the employers and the World Bank. The government, which promised reforms, failed to listen to their own working class.

Second, May Day this year saw trade unions joining hands with civil society groups in the organising of the rally. This was the 18th May Day celebration organised by the 1 May Organising Committee, which comprised groups like Jerit, the National Union of Bank Employee (Nube), Suaram, Women’s Aid Organisation, Sahabat Wanita, Dema, SABM, PSM and PRM. This year, Nube, the Railway Union and the Drink Union joined forces and made the rally more colourful, vibrant and meaningful. The leadership of MTUC also participated in the civil society organised May Day, at which the president gave a speech addressing the issues of contractual workers and union busting. We hope this solidarity and unity will grow stronger and form a powerful force to claim workers rights, which have been taken away all this while by the employers and the government.

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Third, last year, the government amended the Employment Act 1955 in addition to all previous amendments in labour laws which further deprives workers of their rights. Last year, we saw so many groups including Jerit and MTUC opposing the amendments especially the provision of ‘contractor for labour’, which eliminates the relationship between the employer and the worker. Despite all the protests, the government went ahead and made the change. Although the Minister of Human Resources in February 2012 said the amendment only applies to the plantation sector, there has been no withdrawal of the amendment till now. So, at the May Day rally the workers sent another strong message to the government not to step on their heads. They will rise.

Fourth, the May Day rally was held when the general election is just around the corner. The theme of this year’s May Day was ‘Workers are a force of change: Prioritise workers’ rights’. Lately, we can feel the mood of the Malaysians – we all want change. The 250000-strong crowd who came down for the Bersih rally three days ago in KL alone is proof of the people’s desire for change. The workers also reiterated their demands and warned the government – that workers are a force for change. If the government continues to ignore the plight of workers, further deprive them of their rights and continue to form an alliance with employers and investors, the working class is not going to tolerate it and they don’t need to wait long to make the change as GE-13 is just around the corner.

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Enough of 50 years of slavery! Stop violating worker’s rights! Workers are a force for change! Prioritise the rights of workers.

Jerit (Oppressed People’s Network) Secretariat

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